Maryland 2A Boys' Soccer Championship Game
Who: Hammond (11-2-5) vs. Liberty (14-0-3)
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m., Saturday, UMBC
How Hammond Got Here: After placing fourth in the Howard County league during the regular season, the Golden Bears defeated Calvert, 3-0, and Glenelg in penalty kicks, 4-3, after playing to a scoreless draw. The Golden Bears posted a 2-0 victory over defending state champion Atholton in the 2A South Region final and advanced to their first state final with a 2-0 victory over North Region champion Hereford.
How Liberty Got Here: The Lions rolled through the Monacacy Valley Athletic League's Piedmont Division, then posted victories over Francis Scott Key, Winters Mill and Rockville to earn their second consecutive 2A West Region title. The Lions earned their first victory in the state tournament by defeating Queen Anne, 1-0, in overtime in the state semifinals. Liberty lost to Atholton, 3-1, in last year's state semifinals.
Outlook: Hammond goalie David Griffith has posted 11 shutouts, and Liberty goalie Rob Hollasch has allowed 10 goals with 11 shutouts, but both teams also have potent offenses.
Liberty features Taylor VanBrackle (12 goals, 6 assists) Jason Moczulski and A.J. Cherenzia, and Hammond is led by midfielders Mostafa Ebrahimnejad (12 goals, six assists), Jimmy Headley (four goals, three assists) and Jose Maldonado (three goals, three assists). Hammond will face a major test against Liberty, which has allowed more than one goal just once this season.
"Liberty has some very good players, but do I fear them? No," Hammond Coach Rick Bantz said. "But do I respect them? Yes. We are going to have to be at the top of our game to beat them."
Before taking over at Hammond in 2004, Bantz was an assistant coach at Oakland Mills for 18 years, where he helped guide the boys' team to eight state titles and the girls' team to one state title.
"Our whole season comes down to one game for the chance to do something our school has never done before," Hammond junior Vince Taweel said. "If we can win a state title, it will change how everyone thinks about Hammond soccer."
-- JON GALLO